I think it goes without saying that the decision to dismiss Andy Gray from Sky following his remarks regarding a female linesman was correct. The fact that he and his co-commentator, supposedly refined journalist Richard Keys, decided to have a dig about the young female referee was pretty shocking to the football world as a whole, and not just the women. It may be an exaggeration to say that their behavior sets women in sports back 50 years, but it might not be far off. Fortunately for the women in football today, there are enough people in power to not let two big-headed presenters get the best of all those women that have worked so hard to get where they are in such a male dominated arena.
I can pretty much guarantee that when 25-year-old Sian Massey took to the pitch at Molineux Stadium, she never envisioned herself becoming the catalyst for the sacking of one of Sky Sports’ most well known commentators. I imagine that she woke up that morning, ate a healthy breakfast in preparation for the game, had a cup of tea to relax, and then proceeded to go about her business on the field as an official for the match. Ninety minutes later and she was most likely headed home, feeling very confident in the fact that she did a fine job officiating a big Premier League contest. And to her dismay and bemusement, she awoke the next morning to find her name branded all over the print, online, and television media. Not for her laudable performance as an official, but because she is a woman, and according to Keys and Gray, women don’t know enough about football to be anywhere near it.
Understandably the chain of events that followed, first the suspension of Keys and Gray followed swiftly with Gray’s sacking, had very little to do with her in the end. She was merely the focal point for a couple of over-the-hill chauvinists who believe they are living in the 1950s, a time when it was perfectly acceptable to chastise women all in the name of being manly. And what makes the whole situation even more comical is that Keys and Gray, who are not well liked by many viewers, are often questioned about their knowledge of the offside rule. Something they ignorantly believed Massey was incapable of knowing simply because of her gender.
Kenny Dalglish, whose own daughter works in the field of football as a presenter, first on Sky Sports and now on ESPN, claimed he didn’t even know a woman was officiating until after the second half began. As the whole situation gathered momentum, the Liverpool boss was then questioned about his thoughts on the matter. Ever the intelligent diplomat, Dalglish simply replied, “I don’t know what Sky’s attitude is towards women, but certainly for me if you’re good at your job I don’t think your gender should be a restraint. If they’re there, then fine. As I said, I didn’t even realize until the second half that there was a woman running the line. It didn’t bother me in any way, shape, or form. The most important thing is how they see and interpret the laws of the game. The fact that we never knew tells you something. And, by the way, I never noticed if it was a guy on this side either.”
Dalglish has since poked fun at the situation by asking the press before his press conference, “Is it OK for a lady to be here? It doesn’t affect Sky?” His daughter Kelly followed suite and supplied her own quick-witted response to the inanity of Keys and Gray’s comments. She said on Twitter: “Phew am exhausted. Just read about something called ‘the offside rule.’ Too much for my tiny brain. Must be damaged from nail polish fumes.”
I can say as a woman who has played, watched, and analyzes football that I’ve never understood some men’s obsessions with constantly wanting to remind women of their inferiority. Many men, such as Keys and Gray, take some kind of pleasure in making others feel subordinate. Anyone with an ounce of self-confidence knows that the best way to make themselves feel better about their own self-image is not to degrade, but to enhance. With Keys and Gray, it seems a clear case of projecting their own inferior lack of knowledge onto someone else.
In all honesty, despite the prevalence of men like Richard and Andy in the world and especially the world of sports, I’ve rarely come across such antiquated attitudes in my personal life. As a kid, I played on official league teams with all girls, but spent the rest of my time playing with the boys. They always picked me for games and I was often one of the first to play. Was this because I was a girl? Was it because I wasn’t a boy? Or was it simply because I could play and no one gave a toss what I was as long as I contributed to the game?
This being the twenty-first century, I assumed people would be able to notice that one person can do anything just as good as another, no matter what their gender, race, or beliefs are. Perhaps it was naive of me to think that Keys and Gray’s sexist opinions were a thing of the past. I can only hope, along with the rest of the intelligent football community, that with Gray now out of the game for the foreseeable future, it will send a message that such behavior is unacceptable. That, and maybe Sian Massey can become a shining example of just what women can do in football when given the chance, despite what some people might say about them.